Stories of the Trojan War

If you look in your local library or check an online bookseller, you'll find dozens of works retelling the stories of Troy (not to mention the movies). Among them will certainly be Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. The Iliad tells the story of a few dozen days in the next-to-last year of the Greek siege of Troy. The Odyssey tells the tale of Odysseus' return home after the Trojan War. But wonderful as these ancient long poems may be, they do not tell ALL the stories we have about Troy. Look at the Legends Timeline to get an idea of how many stories are left out! And where did Homer get his versions from, anyway?

The fact is that tales of the Trojan War, with events that led up to it and events that followed it, were part of a vast oral

tradition long before they were written down by anyone. This oral tradition included stories people would tell around the fireside at home. It included more elaborate versions in rhythmic poetry performed at festivals, or in palace courts. It probably included all the varieties of storytelling people use, from dramatizations to dance performances to versions for particular audiences or occasions. The Trojan War tales were familiar stories, beginning at least a few generations before Homer started to write (around 750 BCE). To create his epic poems, Homer chose parts of the oral tradition and wove the material into unified works. He probably embroidered on the stories himself, as any good storyteller would. But he couldn't change the tales too much, or people wouldn't approve! That's because they already knew the basic stories from oral tradition.

The next question is, where did the oral tradition come from? Certainly, one source

would be past events. Probably, a war or several wars took place between people from the land of Greece and Troy or a place like it. Memories of such a conflict could only be preserved by storytellers, before there was writing. If you have ever retold a story you heard from someone else, you know how stories can change and grow The facts probably were mixed up with invented material over many years of re-telling the war history. (Click on "Did the Trojan War Really Happen?" for more about this.)

The Trojan War story was also part of the ancient belief system, or myth: stories of the behavior of the gods and how things came to be. To the ancient Greeks, these myths were a form of truth and a basis for religion.

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